TD Donnelly: I'm aware of hurt and disappointment
Political bombshell as Independent Wicklow TD Stephen Donnelly joins Fianna Fail
Deputy Stephen Donnelly's move to Fianna Fáil has attracted attention from the public, even from those for whom politics is a dirty word.
While it's surprising to some and shocking to others, Donnelly has historically made no bones about his opinion that very little can be done to effect change from the independent benches.
The party announced last Thursday that Deputy Donnelly would join their ranks, with a front-bench Brexit position.
The next day, Stephen took to Facebook to make his own announcement on the matter. 'There's been a generally positive reaction in Wicklow but also understandable frustration and surprise,' he said.
He said that the easiest thing would be to stay independent and try to influence things from the margins. 'Given what we're facing, that would be too little, in my view, and so wasn't an option. The best way to have impact is as part of a strong team. So that's what I'm doing.'
He said that the party is a good policy fit, with comparable election manifestos between FF and Social Democrats, the party Deputy Donnelly part-founded and subsequently left.
'Didn't I criticise them at length? I did,' said Deputy Donnelly. 'And I stand by those views. I've equally criticised Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin.'
While his now party-colleague, Deputy Pat Casey, has extended a warm welcome to the new arrival, he acknowledges that it will be more difficult to retain a seat.
'It is a challenged that can be achieved if we work together,' said Pat.
The question remains - is there a second seat to be had for Fianna Fáil in Wicklow and East Carlow? And if not will it be Donnelly's or Casey's?
Fianna Fáil were annihilated nationally in the 2011 election. Dick Roche lost his seat and the party was unrepresented in Wicklow. Pat Casey filled that void last year. With perhaps four years left to another election, can this duo deliver?
In terms of his reasons, Donnelly has staunchly defended his position. 'If the objective was pay or other compensations, I can assure you that I wouldn't be in politics,' he said.
'It's pretty clear from the online feedback that what I've done is make it much harder to get re-elected than had I stayed popular, and largely irrelevant, as an independent.'
He added that he has hurt people he cares about and incurred a deluge of abuse, including from within his home town of Greystones.
'I am acutely aware that what I have done has caused a lot of people hurt, and disappointment, and cynicism, and even betrayal. I am acutely aware that that includes some people who have canvassed for me, and voted for me. It includes people who trusted me to be a voice that would speak truth to power. It includes people who canvassed for me and people who voted for me. It includes people who despise Fianna Fáil,' he said.
'You go into politics to help people, to make things better, in whatever way you think better is. And so it's even harder to see that disappointment and anger, when it's coming from the very people you're trying to make things better for, and the very people who've helped and supported you. It's not something you do remotely lightly, and it feels truly awful.
'Sitting on the independent benches has been like being a stretcher bearer in someone else's war. You can see the incoming fire, you can see who it's going to hit, but you can't do anything about it. You just try to help the wounded.'
Cllr Tom Fortune of Greystones Municipal District said that the role of independents is important. 'Don't in making this political career move try and destroy the independent politician to try and justify what you are doing,' he said. 'The politics is evolving, independents are more important than ever. If there are no independents, who is in political terms going to say when it is needed that "the Emperor has no clothes"? The party whip will ensure it will not be you."
Cllr Joe Behan of Bray Municipal District said that the people of Wicklow and East Carlow have been left without an independent voice. 'While I wish Stephen Donnelly well in the future, in the next election, voters will have a clear choice between politicians who must obey the party whips or independents who speak for the people.
'I will be offering a clear independent voice whenever that election comes,' he said, confirming his intention to run again.
While this week may be given over to fielding questions and criticisms, Donnelly appears to be set on getting back to work. Writing in this week's Sunday Independent, he said 'Now, it's on to Brexit - ensuring that the rights of the citizens of Northern Ireland are protected, that our Irish companies are given every possible support, that Ireland's voice is heard clearly in the upcoming negotiations, and much more.'